Immigration Laws, Trafficking, and Modern Day Slavery.


Anti-immigrant sentiment is all around us.  States worldwide (especially Western capitalist states) very purposefully produce and disseminate discourses of ‘dangerous’ migrants; of ‘illegal aliens’ either pushing drugs, taking jobs, or sucking up welfare dollars.  When any crisis occurs, like 9/11, any foreigner, immigrant, or anyone who doesn’t match the accepted norm of white middle class male is painted as a potential threat.  Citizens are called upon to keep a watchful eye out for suspicious activity, combining fears of ‘dangerous others’ with a sense of responsibility to the nation.

Clearly, these notions of dangerous immigrants are very rarely accurate.  More often than not, migrants have suffered unacceptable lives in their home countries, and are desperately seeking aid and a chance to make a fresh start.  The strict and unequal immigration laws we have in place in North America are designed to take advantage of the desperation of these most down-trodden yet resiliantly hopeful people.  The main way that we accept migrants who want to earn a living into the country is through temporary foreign work programs.  These bind workers to their employers, but workers are denied access to citizenship or even immigrant status that would guarantee them basic civil rights and access to public services.  They are too often paid less than minimum wage, and are left to suffer through any illness without medical coverage.

The strict border control policies post-9/11 also mean that if people want to escape their home countries and start anew, they must put their lives in the hands of smugglers.  The difference between ‘smuggling’ and ‘trafficking’ is that with trafficking, it is assumed that people have been lied to and taken across the border against their will.  There are many groups and movements that speak out against trafficking laws, as the ‘solution’ to this problem according to the state is to simply deport the trafficked person back to their country of origin.  Very likely, a migrant will have risked everything and put their lives in danger to reach the US or Canada, only to be sent back to a country they so desperately tried to escape.

However, why is there no outcry against temporary worker programs?  Temporary workers can suffer the worst abuses at the hands of their employers.  Many are victimized, harrassed, exploited, and even molested and raped in cases of in-home care workers.  If they complain or try to change employers, they are at risk of being deported to the countries they took such effort to leave.  They are awarded no rights or representation because they are denied status.  The popular discourse in North America is that these people are lucky to work here; that this is charity.  Other notions that people have internalized are that these migrants should not be awarded status, because they’d be liable to either be dependent on welfare or to take up jobs that the state should keep available for “nationals”.


In reality, the capitalist state relies on these temporary workers to maintain its economy.  In the colonial era, cheap labour came in the form of slaves.  Slaves were tied to their masters, abused, and unable to complain or obtain rights or representation.  With the abolition of slavery and the rise of ‘free trade’ and globalization, this need for cheap labour without citizenship rights did not disappear.  Temporary workers –tied to their employers and unable to complain or access public services– are modern day slaves.  The global capitalist system is built upon exploitation of land and labourer for profit, and to award basic human rights to these workers would be terribly unprofitable.

Of course, we aren’t told that our very economic system is the reason we treat immigrants so unjustly.  Instead, we read about poor ethnic groups draining our social services, we hear about dangerous drug lords intent on harming our children.  We buy into racist and overly simplistic discourses that legitimize the systematic domination and exploitation of people who are in need of our aid and protection.

This is but one of the social injustices that stem from neoliberal capitalism as the dominant world order.  To begin on a path to a more just and sustainable future, we must focus on the underlying cause of all of our global issues.  We must begin by dismantling and re-imagining our global market relations.


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